2020 Best Online Master's Degrees in ESL

By OnlineU Staff | Updated 3/9/2020
2020 Best Online Master's in ESL Badge

The 17 online colleges on this list are the best value options for online master's programs in ESL, based on their tuition and alumni-reported salaries. At #1, Purdue University - Main Campus charges $13,000 per year for their MS in Education in Curriculum and Instruction - English Language Learning. At #15, Stephen F. Austin State University has the least expensive tuition on the list, charging only $6,060 per year for its Master of Science in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 $13,000 $89,200
# 2 #2 $15,249 $89,000
# 3 #3 $7,572 $78,200
# 4 #4 $7,080 $76,900
# 5 #5 $6,900 $75,800
# 6 #6 $9,187 $68,600
# 7 #7 $13,131 $67,300
# 8 #8 $9,765 $63,900
# 9 #9 $11,849 $64,700
# 10 #10 $8,512 $63,100
# 11 #11 $11,050 $62,800
# 12 #12 $7,904 $59,100
# 13 #13 $6,300 $58,400
# 14 #14 $15,300 $61,200
# 15 #15 $6,060 $57,000
# 16 #16 $16,950 $59,800
# 17 #17 $27,510 $54,800
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo

2020 Online Colleges Offering ESL Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 Purdue University - Main Campus

  • Annual Tuition: $13,000
  • Median Salary: $89,200
  • Locations: West Lafayette (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The College of Education at Purdue University offers a fully online Master of Science in Education in Curriculum and Instruction - English Language Learning (ELL) concentration. The 30-credit master's degree consists of seven core courses and five in the ELL specialization, including English Language Development and Assessment of Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Each ELL course includes fieldwork in a K-12 classroom. The program culminates with students completing an online portfolio to demonstrate teaching competency. Students must complete their coursework within three years but can pace themselves within that limit.

The courses are offered on an eight-week schedule through the Desire2Learn learning management system. Some classes may have synchronous components such as live lectures or discussions.

Admission requires a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution, academic transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Prospective students also need to conduct a phone interview with an admissions officer. Enrolled students have access to virtual resources such as technical support, disability services, and dedicated academic advisors.

#2 Mercy College

  • Annual Tuition: $15,249
  • Median Salary: $89,000
  • Locations: Dobbs Ferry (NY)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Mercy College offers a Master of Science in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Students choose from two tracks: initial certification (36 credits) or professional certification (33 credits). The professional certification track requires an existing New York state teaching license and at least three years of teaching experience. Coursework for both tracks focuses on cultural perspectives, education evaluation and assessment, and language development. In addition to virtual courses, all students complete 10-15 hours of fieldwork observation and a semester of student teaching (for initial certification) or 20 days of clinical practice (for professional certification).

Courses may be fully asynchronous or may feature synchronous lessons at set times. Students submit their assignments, stream video lectures, and participate in classroom discussions through the Blackboard learning management system. Graduate students may be eligible for certain scholarships and full- or part-time assistantships.

Applicants must have a liberal arts undergraduate degree, though not necessarily in the education field. Mercy requires an online application, which includes a personal statement, resume, letters of recommendation, and transcripts from all previous academic institutions. Mercy provides student support services that include tutoring, mental health counseling, and career and professional development.

#3 Seattle University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,572
  • Median Salary: $78,200
  • Locations: Seattle (WA)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Seattle University’s (SU) College of Education offers a Master of Education- Educating Non-Native English Speakers. This fully online program trains educators in the theoretical concepts and practical strategies of teaching English Language Learner (ELL) students. Half of the degree (24 credits) is devoted to the Master of Education core requirements and a capstone research project. The ELL endorsement curriculum makes up the remaining 24 credits and includes classes such as Culture, Language, and Community, Assessing and Teaching Literacy for Language Learners, and Advanced Diverse Needs of English Learners.

Students access their coursework using the Canvas learning management system and learn through video lectures, assigned readings, essays, and quizzes. SU classes are asynchronous to provide a flexible and supportive learning environment. Some students may be eligible for scholarships or fellowships to help fund their degrees.

Admission requirements include a bachelor’s degree (with a minimum GPA of 3.0) and a Washington state teaching certificate. Along with an online application, students must submit their undergraduate transcripts, a statement of purpose, a resume, a self-evaluation form, and two letters of recommendation from professional educators. SU provides support services such as virtual library access, academic advising, IT assistance, and mental health resources.

#4 Western Governors University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,080
  • Median Salary: $76,900
  • Locations: Salt Lake City (UT)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Western Governors University (WGU), a fully online institution, offers a Master of Arts in the English Language to candidates with a current teaching license. Students learn the skills necessary to become an English Language Learning (ELL) or English as a second language (ESL) specialist by completing an 11-course curriculum.

Students can move through their coursework entirely at their own pace, using e-textbooks, simulations, tutorials, library services, and learning groups throughout the program.

WGU admits students on a rolling basis. Prospective students must submit an online application, official academic transcripts, and a copy of their valid teaching license. Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. An intake interview may be required of incoming students. Program mentors are assigned to all enrolled students and provide support on a regular basis. Students also have access to career services, accessibility accommodations, and financial aid opportunities.

#5 Saint Xavier University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,900
  • Median Salary: $75,800
  • Locations: Chicago (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Saint Xavier University students have the chance to complete an online Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) or dual endorsement (learning behavior specialist one and bilingual/ESL). The Master of Arts in Education requires that students complete core classes and the credit hours necessary for the TESOL endorsement for a combined total of 30-33 credit hours. Students can expect to take classes such as Linguistics for Educators, Assessment of Bilingual Students, and Cross Cultural Studies in a Bilingual Program. In addition to the online coursework, program participants must complete 100 hours of fieldwork. Those with at least three months of teaching experience in an ESL classroom may be able to waive this requirement. Most students complete the degree in two years.

Online coursework is delivered through the Canvas platform, and study abroad options are available to distance learners. Students may be eligible for TEACH grants and Minority Teachers of Illinois scholarships.

Interested students can find the program application online, which requires submitting a personal statement, academic transcripts, and a current teaching license. All Saint Xavier University online degrees are connected to the school’s Center for Instructional Design and Technology, which provides support for students and faculty engaged in virtual learning. Resources for students include library services, career development tools, tutoring and disability services, and academic advisors.

#6 Kansas State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,187
  • Median Salary: $68,600
  • Locations: Manhattan (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Kansas State University offers an online Master of Science in Curriculum and Instruction - English as a Second Language. The 31-credit curriculum covers teaching and learning, diversity, educational technology, and research. Students take at least 15 credits in their ESL specialization, which includes courses in language assessment, teaching methods, and a three-credit practicum at either the elementary or secondary level. To graduate, students must complete a master's project report or thesis.

All classes in this program are 100% online and asynchronous, so students can work on courses at their convenience. KSU offers the K-State Global Campus Scholarship to select distance-learning students, and students can pursue more scholarship options through the College of Education.

Applicants must provide a detailed statement of objectives, resume/CV, contact information for three references, and unofficial transcripts at the time of application. Online students have access to resources such as advising, coaching, tutoring, and an IT Help Desk.

#7 University of South Florida Online

  • Annual Tuition: $13,131
  • Median Salary: $67,300
  • Locations: Tampa (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of South Florida (USF) Online offers a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction - Secondary Education: Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). This program consists of 33 core credits: nine credits in educational foundations, 18 credits in the ESL concentration, and six credits for graduate-level electives. Students learn assessment methods, curriculum and instruction, trends in foreign language acquisition, cross-cultural issues in teaching, and instructional strategies. The program culminates in a comprehensive exam.

Asynchronous courses are hosted on the Canvas learning system, where students can access 24/7 online technical support and chat features. To make the degree more affordable, students can apply for teaching or research assistantships, USF scholarships, and fellowships from the Office of Graduate Studies.

Prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree and two or more years of relevant experience, including proof of teaching certification. Applicants should submit a USF Graduate Admissions application, statement of goals, two recommendation letters, official transcripts, and a resume. As part of the Florida Virtual Campus, USF offers free academic advising, library, and career services to online students.

#8 Ball State University

  • Annual Tuition: $9,765
  • Median Salary: $63,900
  • Locations: Muncie (IN)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Ball State University offers a fully online Master of Arts in Education in Elementary Education - English as a New Language. This 30-credit program prepares elementary teachers to teach diverse English-language learner (ELL) populations and leads to a license in English as a New Language. Core courses cover literacy assessment and development, diversity, and data-informed instruction. The specialization consists of five courses that focus on Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) methodology, including assessment techniques and English linguistics for educators.

Online courses are accessible anytime via the Canvas learning management system, which also offers 24/7 tech support. Master’s students can apply for graduate assistantships to receive a stipend and tuition waiver: Ball State waives most tuition for full-time graduate assistants who work 20 hours a week, and 55% of tuition for part-time graduate assistants who work 10 hours a week. Eligible graduate students in elementary education can also apply for special scholarships.

Admission to the program requires an application, official transcripts verifying a bachelor’s degree, minimum 2.75 GPA, statement of purpose, writing sample, and three recommendation letters. Ball State offers online academic advising, peer mentoring, technical support, and academic resources such as tutoring and writing help.

#9 University of Memphis

  • Annual Tuition: $11,849
  • Median Salary: $64,700
  • Locations: Memphis (TN)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Memphis (U of M) offers a fully online Master of Arts in English - ESL degree. Students take 11 classes for the M.A. in English and five classes for an ESL certificate. Courses in the ESL concentration cover ESL instruction, assessment methods, literacy, and issues in cultural understanding. The university provides opportunities for students to gain practical experience by teaching in the Czech Republic.

Asynchronous classes allow students to complete coursework on their schedules. U of M’s Experiential Learning Program allows qualifying students to earn course credit for relevant life experiences, such as previous work and volunteering experience. The university may also discount or waive some fees for students who meet certain criteria.

Prospective students submit an online application, transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. U of M Global Students Services assists students with registration, advising, tutoring, library access, technical assistance, and career planning.

#10 Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $8,512
  • Median Salary: $63,100
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University (ASU) offers an online Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The program contains 10 courses (30 credit hours), in which students will learn international TESOL practices for language acquisition (including computer-assisted teaching), topics in linguistics research, language assessment, and differences in English around the world. The coursework culminates in a capstone project overseen by a linguistics or TESOL faculty member.

Some classes may require set log-in times, although courses are generally asynchronous. ASU Online programs feature several start dates during the year for added flexibility. The university provides a Scholarship Search tool for students looking to lower the cost of their master’s degree.

Application to graduate studies at ASU involves submitting an online application, official transcripts showing a minimum 3.0 GPA, a resume, three letters of recommendation, and a written statement of purpose. International students are also required to demonstrate English proficiency, such as strong TOEFL scores. The Student Services office helps online students with 24/7 counseling, time management coaching, and technical resources.

#11 Lesley University

  • Annual Tuition: $11,050
  • Median Salary: $62,800
  • Locations: Cambridge (MA)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Lesley University offers an online Master of Education in Individually Designed Program for Educators - Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). Courses in this 33-credit program cover assessment, educational theories, linguistics, writing across the curriculum, and integrating technology in classrooms with nonnative English-speaking students. An English Language Learners (ELL) specialization is also offered through an online 33-credit Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Elementary Education Generalist degree.

Asynchronous classes allow students to study and participate in class discussions through chats and discussion boards when convenient. Students in this program can apply for several institutional scholarships, including an early childhood education program scholarship. Students who hold a bachelor’s degree from Lesley are eligible for the Lesley Dividend, giving them 12 free credits toward their master’s degree.

Prospective students apply by submitting an online application, proof of a current teaching license, personal statement, official transcripts, and two letters of recommendation. Admitted students are assigned an academic advisor to help them access student support services such as online tutoring. A designated faculty advisor helps students develop and follow an academic plan of study.

#12 Troy University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,904
  • Median Salary: $59,100
  • Locations: Troy (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Troy University offers an online Master of Science in Second Language Instruction with either a thesis or non-thesis track. The 31-33 credit program is offered in nine-week classes with five start dates throughout the year. The curriculum includes 27 credits of core classes that cover linguistics, grammar, assessment methods, and instructional strategies. The program culminates in a capstone course and a thesis or practicum that allows students to apply their skills to real-life scenarios.

Online coursework is asynchronous and hosted on the Canvas learning platform, where students can access their class materials and resources at any time. Troy hosts scholarships for graduate, online, and military students. Troy University has a flexible transfer policy that recognizes credit earned from other post-secondary institutions and military experience.

The admission process involves submitting an online application, a letter of recommendation, and official transcripts. Students have access to various support services such as online tutoring, writing assistance, advising, and career counseling.

#13 University of Alabama

  • Annual Tuition: $6,300
  • Median Salary: $58,400
  • Locations: Tuscaloosa (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The University of Alabama’s Bama by Distance program offers an online Master of Arts in Secondary Education (with English for Speakers of Other Languages P-12 certification). This 30-credit program is for students interested in helping learners from diverse backgrounds improve English-speaking skills. The curriculum focuses on instructional foundations, ESL assessment, teaching methods, and integrating technology into the curriculum. Students gain hands-on experience through field teaching and an internship.

Students can access syllabi and course materials online via the Blackboard learning platform. Faculty may also host classes through Blackboard Collaborate Web Conferencing for an interactive, virtual classroom experience. Bama by Distance offers a number of scholarships and grants to online students.

Admission to this program requires a bachelor’s degree (3.0 GPA or higher) and an Alabama Class B teacher certificate or equivalency. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. To support student success, the university provides online tutoring, academic advising, online library resources, a writing center, and technical support. The Career Center helps students develop a career action plan, connect with employers and alumni, and prepare for interviews.

#14 Texas A&M University-College Station

  • Annual Tuition: $15,300
  • Median Salary: $61,200
  • Locations: College Station (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Texas A&M University – College Station offers an online Master of Education in Bilingual/ESL Education intended for those working in the education field. The 36-credit program has courses in ESL assessment, instruction, curriculum development, methodologies, and research. Students are required to complete a directed studies course and a bilingual field practicum.

Online coursework is asynchronous, so students can listen to lectures and work on their assignments 24/7. The Office of Graduate Studies Financial Aid offers graduate students non-resident tuition waivers and scholarships based on their program of study, academic merit, leadership abilities, or financial need.

Applicants must submit an online application, official transcripts, letter of recommendation, and a statement of purpose. GRE test scores are not required. Online learners have access to student support services such as web-based technical support, advising, and writing or tutoring assistance.

#15 Stephen F. Austin State University

  • Annual Tuition: $6,060
  • Median Salary: $57,000
  • Locations: Nacogdoches (TX)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Stephen F. Austin State University offers an online Master of Education in Teaching & Learning - ESL/Bilingual. Students take an 18-hour core group of courses, plus 12 hours in the ESL/Bilingual specialization and six hours of electives. Courses in the concentration focus on language acquisition, foundations of ESL/bilingual instruction, assessment, and teaching methods.

Asynchronous classes allow students to access lectures, videos, and discussions at their convenience. Online courses are vetted by the Center for Teaching and Learning to ensure quality online delivery. Texas residents may be eligible for several institutional grants, such as the Purple Promise of Lumberjack grant which can help fund some tuition and fees for students.

Prospective students can apply by completing an application found on the Apply Texas website. Applicants should meet graduate school admission standards, which include a minimum 2.75 undergraduate GPA or a 2.8 GPA on the last 60 semester hours completed. Support services available to online students include tutoring, academic advising, career counseling, disability assistance, and online library resources.

#16 Liberty University

  • Annual Tuition: $16,950
  • Median Salary: $59,800
  • Locations: Lynchburg (VA)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Liberty University offers an online Master of Arts in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). Courses in this 30-credit program are taught in an eight-week format, and students can start on eight dates throughout the year. This program’s focus is on preparing students to teach English literacy from a Christian worldview consistent with Liberty University’s mission. Coursework covers English as a world language, cultural anthropology, curriculum and instruction, ESL assessment, and strategies for teaching grammar and pronunciation.

Classes are taught on the Blackboard learning management system, which gives students 24/7 access to course syllabi, lectures, assignments, and discussion boards. Liberty offers scholarships and grants to make a master’s degree more affordable, along with tuition discounts for first responders, owners and employees of small businesses, and active-duty service members.

Admission to the program requires an application and official transcripts verifying completion of a bachelor’s degree. Liberty provides academic support services to help students complete their degrees, including online tutoring, library resources, study aids, webinars, and advising.

#17 Duquesne University

  • Annual Tuition: $27,510
  • Median Salary: $54,800
  • Locations: Pittsburgh (PA)
  • Accreditation: MSCHE

Duquesne University offers an online Master of Science in Education - English as a Second Language. Full-time students can complete the 30-credit program in three semesters, but others take up to six. The curriculum consists of 24 credits of core courses in TESOL methods, applied linguistic theories, and understanding linguistically different students. Students also take six credits of electives.

Course materials, lectures, and discussions are delivered via synchronous and asynchronous formats. Duquesne offers a 25% tuition award to eligible students in the M.S.Ed in ESL program. To apply, students must be new to graduate school, enrolled in at least six credits of classes, and not receiving another scholarship or award from Duquesne.

Degree applicants must have earned at least a 3.0 GPA for their bachelor’s degree. Admitted students can start in the fall, spring, or summer. The degree is for ESL teachers who hold an initial certification, ESL teachers working abroad or in private schools, and educators working with adult literacy. The ESL Specialist Certificate qualifies state-certified teachers to teach ESL in Pennsylvania schools. A TESOL Certificate is needed to work in overseas language centers. Duquesne provides tutoring and mentoring for all students, along with a Center for Career Development to help them secure internships and jobs.

Online Master's in ESL Overview

Online master's degree programs in ESL are available to those who already have a teaching license and who want to add to their knowledge and skill set, as well as individuals who don't have a teaching background and who want to begin a career as an ESL teacher. This type of program will generally take two years to complete and will consist of around 30 credit hours of study. In order to be admitted to one of these programs an applicant will need to have earned a bachelor's degree, and depending on the program, this degree may or may not need to be in a related field. Depending on the nature of the program, the applicant may also need to have a teaching license and work experience in the field. Other typical admission requirements include letters of recommendation, an essay outlining the individual's career and educational goals, and a resume.

Classes that students may take include Language Structure and Acquisition, Linguistics, Language and Culture in the Classroom, and ESL for Children. Student teaching will also usually be required. After earning a master's degree, graduates will be qualified to work as an ESL teacher to students from Pre-K to the twelfth grade. Those who are looking to earn a master's as a way to become a licensed teacher will need to check with their state for any additional requirements.

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